Friday, October 30, 2009
Halloween is the strangest of our major holidays because it involves so many contradictions. One major contradiction comes from its very beginning when converted Christians wanted to continue celebrating as pagans. Another contradiction is the different principles taught to children every day as opposed to what they learn on Halloween. Our present day celebration probably descended from the Celtic festival known as Samhain, according to Carol Bain (World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, 24-26). The Celtic people lived in the area now known as the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France. The Celtic new year began on November 1. A festival was held on the eve of the new year to honor Samhain, the Celtic lord of death. This festival marked the beginning of a season of cold, darkness, and decay and invoked thoughts of the dead and death. One of the Celtic's beliefs was that the spirits of the dead were allowed to return to their earthly homes for this evening. For the festival, the people would put out their fires at home and go to a huge bonfire built by the Druids (the priests and teachers of the Celts). The bonfire was made from oak branches because they were thought to be sacred. The Druids sacrificed animals, crops, and maybe humans. Sometimes the people wore costumes of animal heads and skins. Fortunes were told by examining the remains in the fire. The people took fire from the bonfire to relight their hearth fires. Following the conquest of the Celtics, the Romans ruled much of Great Britain for approximately 400 years. It was during this time that two Roman autumn holidays were combined with the pagan festival of Samhain. One was to honor the dead, and the other was to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. This may be how apples came to be part of Halloween. When the people became Christians, they continued many of the Celtic customs. During the 800s when the church established All Saints Day on November 1, the people brought the pagan customs as part of this holy day. November 2 was named as a day to honor the dead and was known as All Souls Day. The mass said on All Saints Day was called Allhallowmas. The previous evening was known as All Hallows' Eve or All Hallow e'en. The Celts in different areas celebrated in different ways. The people in Ireland begged for food in a parade. The Scottish people carried torches while parading through fields and villages. They built huge bonfires on hillsides to scare away evil spirits. The people in Wales each marked a stone and put it in a bonfire. They believed that if their stone was missing the next morning, he or she would die within a year. English poor people went a-souling (begging) on All Souls Day and received pastries called soulcake in exchange for promising to pray for the dead. Early American settlers from England and other Celtic areas brought their customs with them, but, due to strict religious beliefs of other settlers, Halloween celebrations did not become popular until the 1800s. In England the people carved out beets, potatoes, and turnips to use for Halloween lanterns. Pumpkins became the vegetables of choice in America. An Irish legend says that the jack-o-lantern was named for a man named Jack who couldn't go to heaven because he was a miser and couldn't go to hell because he played tricks on the devil. He has to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgment Day. Bobbing for apples in containers of water probably came from England. We spend an entire year teaching our children to love God, be kind to others, unselfishness, etc. Then for Halloween, we dress them in costumes, some of which are very ugly, scary and otherwise ungodly, and send them out to "trick or treat" - which actually means "give me a treat or I will do something mean to you." What are we really teaching our children when we allow them to "take" rather than "give" to others? Although some of the traditions such as bobbing for apples and having celebrations are completely innocent, how can we justify continuing the other parts of Halloween? I have so much confusion in my soul over Halloween that I'm not sure how I really feel about it. I stopped decorating for Halloween many years ago, but I continued to provide costumes and took my little children out to "trick or treat." One restriction that I did put on the celebration was if Halloween fell on the Sabbath. Those years found my little ones trick or treating on Saturday night and in a back room of our darkened home on Sunday. I would provide them with treats, and we spent the time reading books and playing games. I have a friend who makes Halloween a special time to take her children "window shopping" at a local toy store for Christmas ideas. The children enjoy the opportunity to spend time with their mother playing with toys as well as the refreshments, which always followed the shopping trip. Maybe Halloween is one of those "traditions of the fathers" that we should discontinue. Anyway, Happy Halloween. I hope you all have a nice, safe day!